Artificial Intelligence Impacts Photography
Last updated 4/7/2021 at 3:32pm
In 1956 John McCarthy at Stanford University coined the phrase Artificial Intelligence (AI) to label the developing phenomenon of digital computer automation and the combination of machine sensing, data collection, data analyzing, data storage, and resulting actions without humans controlling each step of the process. At that time scientific visionaries saw the frightening possibilities of computers programing computers and taking over much of the tasks what humans had to date performed. Artists, particularly photographers, warned that AI would take away human creativity and human artistic expression.
Computerization has advanced exponentially since 1956 and has become an essential tool scientifi-cally to process great amounts of data and to automate control electronic and mechanical processes. Computers seem to be everywhere doing a multitude of functions.
Photography had evolved exponentially also. The Hubble telescope has photographed astonishing astronomical formations far from earth and the unmanned Perseverance vehicle is sending back fantastic high-resolution photographs of Mars. Continuous feed unmanned video cameras monitor areas for security purposes and traffic control. Face recognition photographic software aids in airport security as well as family tree research. Medical scanning provides health care professionals with close-up and magnified photographic images of any part of our body. Military use of high-resolution photographs (from unmanned satellites) for intelligence purposes cannot be ignored. Digital cameras (which are computerized) seem to be everywhere and doing a multitude of functions.
Personal photography and photography as an art form have also been significantly impacted by the digital camera and its apps. Millions of cell phone users are taking billions of photographs daily and transmitting them to their friends and family via the cloud.
Today the amateur and professional photographer alike are aided when capturing the right image by cameras that auto-focus even on moving subjects, stabilize the image to compensate for camera movement, set the correct aperture or shutter speed settings, correct white balance, or even record GPS location. Some of these automatic features perform functions that cannot easily be accomplished by the photographer, but they enhance the image. While other functions are labor-saving tools that replace human tasks. When the camera performs the mundane or repetitive work automatically it frees up the photographer to concentrate on more creative actions. But it is still up to the photographer to push the shutter button to capture the right moment, the right facial expression, the right mood, and the right perspective.
The digital image captured on the sensor of the camera does not have to be the final or most representative expression of what the photographer wanted to capture. Prior to the digital age film photographers had limited tools to refine or correct their images. Negatives could be touched up, compositions cropped or aligned, and areas lightened up or darkened. But it was difficult to save a poorly taken photograph.
Now the modern tools provided by AI allow the photographer to complete the artwork that was started when the shutter button was pushed and do so in the way the photographer envisions the image. This vision could be traditionally authentic in its details, enhanced to look even better than real life, modeled to resemble the work of an Impressionist artist, or even be extremely abstract.
The photographer can darken the image or even convert it to black and white to make it more somber or vintage. Unwanted objects can disappear and be replaced with “background awareness” generated content so that the disappearance is not noticeable. Objects, people, blue sky with white clouds, snow and exotic backgrounds can be added.
The professional portrait photographer can select glamor automatic revisions that add the appropriate background, remove blemishes, enhance skin tone, eliminate wrinkles, or make hair sparkle. People can be made thinner or heavier. The line of sight of the eyes can be moved and their color changed.
The digital automated tools are there ready for the photographer to use or not use, to apply with surgical precision or universally, to adjust and tweak, or work individually or in conjunction with other routines, and to command all to create the final vision.
In both capture and post processing Artificial Intelligence has massively impacted photography. It has improved the process, created labor savings systems that minimize mundane and repetitive tasks, removed unwanted obstacles, provided operations not manually available, added functions that expand the data base, and unleashed opportunities for greater human creativity and artistic expression.
(Williams is a member of the Land of Waterfalls Camera Club.)